The Solace of the Ancient
There is comfort in the proximity of ancient things. If such things have endured for so many years, we reason, why shouldn’t they endure for many more? And they may. Old trees, John Prine once said, just grow stronger, and old rivers grow wilder every day.
And yet we know that even old trees will at some point become rotten and precarious; and even old rivers have been known to dry up occasionally. Such is the fate of even the most stable of elements in our world. All beings―trees, towers, totalitarians―must someday meet their end at the point of decay’s far-reaching spear.
And yet, not all beings. We are confronted in the first chapter of Revelation with an Ancient beyond the reach and power of decay. He proclaims to the apostle John:
I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:17,18)
Beings that wield eternity like a sand shovel don’t always inspire comfort; in fact we generally try to avoid anything that refuses the confines of easy definition. At best they make us uneasy. At worst, as in the case of John, Daniel, and Isaiah, they threaten to unravel us completely. And yet here, in the midst of John’s anguish, this ancient One, who inhabits eternity, who is none other than the glorified Christ, offers this comfort: “Don’t be afraid!"
Reading more news of the recent virus last night I felt, for the first time, an uninvited fear. A weakening of the knees as the tide of an unknown future began lapping around my feet. Who, if they’re honest, feels prepared to meet the rising waves of the unknown? Who would rather not flee; hide; gather and make safe all those we love and care about?
And yet here is our dilemma. Our arms are shortened so that they cannot save. Our narrow reach simply lacks the expanse to protect all those things we hold dear: families, friends, futures. We find that we are not ancient, nor sufficient. We are not wise. We are not a bulwark.
And yet, even in the midst of uncertainty, there remains a rest for the people of God in the arms of the ancient Christ, through whom mountains, galaxies, and oceans were made. To those who love Him, He is not a cold and terrifying force. In fact the Psalms portray Him as almost maternal—bottling tears, smoothing anxious minds, providing his expectant children with wagon loads of good gifts (Psalm 65:11). Such gifts loom larger than cloudless skies, clear health, and full cupboards; such gifts as we might expect from an ingratiating, fragile god. No. Jesus’ gifts to His own are weighty. Voluminous. They reach beyond the few years of trouble in this life and stretch on to eternity’s green hills and swift sunrises.
They are weighty because they find their substance in Christ Himself, who expressly promised in John 14:3 that he “will not abandon [us] as orphans.” Through the Spirit that now presides in every one of His children, Christ dwells with us. And through abiding in such a Spirit we, brittle we, now share in His ancientness. For those who love the one with burning eyes and thundering voice, He is not a terror, but a resounding assurance. We find that his ancience is the universal bower, trumping all those things we must otherwise certainly live in fear of: death, decay, and the gnashings of hell.
Someday we will all die. To spend our lives avoiding an inevitability is neither right nor safe, nor a wise use of time. Far better to now make peace with it. Not as a fatalist, or a stoic, but as a son or a daughter, and to take refuge in the shadow of the Almighty.
To our church, and to all those who call on the name of the Lord in truth: yes, wash your hands, yes practice “safe distancing” and all of the other precautions suggested. But don’t ever mistake the church as fragile. She is not. She is, through Him who loved us, as terrible as an army with banners. What will, sooner or later, by death or disease, be sown in weakness, will someday be raised incorruptible.
Until then, we love, and pray, and fellowship through the means available to us. Fear not little flock, He has overcome the world.
“Glory to Jesus
Ancient and strong
Giver of love
And the theme of my song
Glory to Jesus
Ancient and strong
Come to your people
And carry us home.”
- Andrew Peterson
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